Monday, July 7, 2008

Be Here Now

Trainspotting 1
Forty or so years from now when critics are gathering data about the greatest and most influential films of the nineties I am sure that it will be Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction that finds its way to the top of most of the lists, which is of course not a bad choice at all. If I am around and asked though I will cast my vote for Danny Boyle’s miraculous Trainspotting, a film that I believe had more of a personal effect on people than any other picture did from the decade that rediscovered cool.
Trainspotting 2
Pulp Fiction might have had more of an influence on other films and filmmakers (certainly Tarantino has continued to grow as a writer and director whereas Danny Boyle sadly hasn't) but there has always been something, at least to my eyes, more culturally resonate about Trainspotting and I think it will continue to grow in stature as the decades continue to slip away from us.
Trainspotting 3
I was just a month into my 23rd year when Trainspotting hit American shores. I wouldn’t have guessed that a film centering on a group of Scottish junkies would have hit me so hard living in my relatively safe environment of Lexington, Ky. but it did and its emotive punch continues to sting me to this day.
Trainspotting 5
There is something universal not only in the despairing alienation that the characters in Trainspotting feel, but also the in the undeniable exuberance of that alienation that struck me and many others as down right revelatory well over a decade ago. Trainspotting is not just another drug film, but it’s one of the great films centering on youth ever made…not a pretty safe Spielbergian picture of youth but instead of snapshot of what it often really is, a scrambled and sometimes sick and confused place that you’ll eventually have to escape in one way or another.
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The film feels positively mythic to me today. The characters of Renton, Sick Boy, Spud, Tommy, Diane and Begbie feel like people I knew, not like characters from a film centering on a life I would never want to know. The film’s seemingly instant iconic scenes continue to resonate as well with an alarming freshness that few films at least in my lifetime could even touch, as do the break out performances by Ewan McGregor, Jonny Lee Miller, Robert Carlyle and Kelly Macdonald. Trainspotting retains that rush of excitement that it carried with it back in 96 and I can't imagine its incredible adrenaline inducing power ever being lost.
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The memories of initially seeing the film when it first arrived are almost as memorable as the film itself, with special note going to a packed midnight show of the film that turned into one of the most endearingly communal experiences I have ever encountered.
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After that initial run, the hunt for variant versions began for me and a few friends with rumors of a different European cut, a pricey Criterion Laserdisc and the legendary Irvine Welsh novel that inspired the glorious madness in the first place.
Conversations would develop amongst people as to which character you were (I was always Sick Boy) and games came up involving quotes and moments from the film…both of which shouldn’t take away from how totally devastating the film is and remains.
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Pulp Fiction might have some wince inducing moments but at its heart it is a fun film, whereas Trainspotting is truly heartbreaking and wrenching. If anyone can point me to another scene quiet as grueling as the discovery of the baby in the apartment I would love to see it.
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The soundtrack, of course, is another key element and the film seemed to magically go right along with the Britpop so many of us kids in the nineties fell in love with. Added on to its embracing of everyone from Blondie to Lou Reed (has “Perfect Day” ever sounded the same since?) and Trainspotting becomes in a very profound way my Easy Rider…a picture that crystallized a moment, a vivid portrait of not just junkies on the dole in Scotland but also me in my bedroom playing the first Elastic lp over and over again until the grooves were worn nearly completely down.
 Trainspotting 11
I revisit the film every year or so and I find while I keep aging, it somehow manages to stay the same…somehow not losing any of its power to shock, touch and move me. I really don’t know how it plays to people in their teens or early twenties now who come across it. Maybe it’s dated already, I don’t know and frankly I don’t care. For me, Trainspotting is one of the great films…a gleeful celebration of youth in all of its sometimes ugly and messy splendor.
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Of all the moments in the film, it is Sick Boy’s lament that “at one time, you've got it, and then you lose it, and it's gone forever" that perhaps hits me hardest when revisiting it, and I suspect I am not the only one who nods in knowing agreement when they hear those lines now. That moment in particular touches me the most in the film, bringing on an equal level of sadness and comfort that I doubt I will ever get over.

9 comments:

Steve Langton said...

Absolutely top quality post there. Trainspotting is one of the greats and your thoughts perfectly encapsulate why this is so. Sick boy's lament is thought provoking in the extreme. Sort of one miunte you're bowling along, giving it the large one to life and in the blink of an eye, you realise some things have changed forever. You are so right that this film has not aged one bit and remains an essential movie. Was the film subtitled, Jeremy? I had heard that it was in some states as the Scottish accent can sometimes be a bit hard to understand (just like my own accent can to my American in-laws).
Btw, have you seen Boyle's debut feature Shallow Grave? Well worth seeing if you haven't.

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks Steve,
Glad to hear the film is a special one to you as well.
I believe the film in its initial US version was partially re-dubbed. I think the version out now on disc is the original...I must admit I still turn on the sub-title button during Begbie's scenes (mostly because I don't want to miss one of his priceless lines).
Thanks for the comments...much appreciated.
Oh, I have seen and liked Shallow Grave...I didn't mean to slag Boyle off in the post, he just hasn't made anything the equal to this in my eyes since.

J.D. said...

I love this film as well. It has a KILLER soundtrack - Primal Scream, Elastica, Lou Reed, et al. Altho, a film about Scottish junkies and no Jesus and Mary Chain?!!

Also, I have to take you task re: Danny Boyle: "certainly Tarantino has continued to grow as a writer and director whereas Danny Boyle sadly hasn't"

I would argue the contrary. If anything, Tarantino has gotten worse since PULP FICTION proving my suspicion that perhaps Roger Avary wrote all the best bits in QT's early films. With the exception of the underappreciated JACKIE BROWN, QT created one tiring pastiche of other people's films after another. I found DEATH PROOF to be dull, dull, until the last 20 minutes or so. He seems to like making mixed tapes of films with nothing all that original - except for his foot fetish.

Boyle, on the other hand, is quietly becoming England's answer to Steven Soderbergh by dabbling in all kinds of genres, from nasty Hitchcockian thriller with SHALLOW GRAVE to freewheeling romantic comedy/road movie/musical with A LIFE LESS ORDINARY, to a balls-out horror film with 28 DAYS LATER to a genuinely touching kids film with MILLIONS to a thought-provoking science fiction film with SUNSHINE.

You're right that none of these films are as good as TRAINSPOTTING but I'd wager to say that they are pretty close with maybe 28 DAYS LATER being as good. At any rate, at least he's trying while QT is regressing, IMO.

Jeremy Richey said...

Hey J.D.
We should celebrate as we have finally found something we disagree on! My admiration has grown for Tarantino since PULP FICTION and I loved DEATH PROOF...I respect that Boyle has tried to mix it up but have liked his films less and less (I didn't care for 28 DAYS LATER at all).
Thanks for the comments...after agreeing on so much stuff and having such similiar tastes it's good to find some difference!
I must say though, you are right on the money about The Jesus and Mary Chain needing to be on the soundtrack.
Thanks again buddy for the always great comments.

Ibetolis said...

Brilliant post Jeremy.

My love for Trainspotting has grown throughout the years and like you it was a transcendental moment the first time I clapped eyes on it; uniquely in a packed tent at Glastonbury. What a weekend!

It was my film, it was made for me. That's how I honestly feel, it touched me in a way that no film had done before. I swallowed everything about that era, the music (oh the music - I hopped around like a demented freak to Mile End and like you I destroyed my Elastica LP by over playing it), the clothes, the whole Britpop pathos - what a time to be young.

I've paid tribute to it's supurb opening credit sequence on my blog already but I couldn't have done a better job than this post. Cheers mate, it's all come flooding back.

To step on a few toes. Can't stand 28 days later, didn't like Death Proof. Shallow Grave is fantastic and Boyle has remained stagnant since completing Trainspotting. Just for this film however, he'll forever remain a genius.

Rogue Spy 007 said...

Definitely one of my top films of the 90's. I'll admit that I'm a bigger fan of this film than Pulp Fiction (which I do really love). This film just really clicked with me. It was my introduction to many of its stars. I've always been a big fan of Brit cinema. The music was spot on.

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks IbeTolis,
I really appreciate hearing your memories of the film and this very special period, which obviously meant a lot to us. I will check out your TRAINSPOTTING post at your blog, which I somehow looked over before, and am looking forward to it. Thanks again for the wonderful comments.

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks Keith,
It really is one of teh definitive films of the period and I'm glad to hear you love it as much as I do. The soundtrack is tremendous isn't it?

Steve Langton said...

Some very interesting lines of thought here. JD makes an excellent case for Boyle's output since Trainspotting but I just can't get on with his work since this film. On Tarantino, I'd say JB is by far his best work to date, and I'd rate Death Proof as an out and out success. I hear Boyle may be shooting a film based on Cardiff City's infamous 'Soul Crew' football hooligans sometime in the future.